Saturday, December 10, 2005

Guilty of remix?

In the US the pioneering webcaster Postclassic Radio has been found to be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for streaming consecutive tracks (actually consecutive movements from a symphony) from the same CD.

Is it right to prevent emerging technologies such as the internet and music streaming from being used for the long-established practice of remixing culture?

I recently quoted Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor, and originator of the Creative Commons alternative to copyright who explained: "Culture is remix. Knowledge is remix. Politics is remix. Everyone in the life of producing and creating engages in this practice of remix.Companies do it. Politicians do it ... We all do it. This is what life is in the expression of creativity. Remix is how we live."

Remixing has a pretty long history with some pretty impressive practitioners. Berio's Sinfonietta remixes Mahler. Tippett's Third Symphony remixes Beethoven. Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony remixes Rossini and Wagner. Stravinsky thought he was remixing Pergolesi in his ballet Pulcinella, but it turns out it was actually Dominico Gallo, and Elgar remixed himself in the sublime Music Makers. The Lutheran chorales in Bach are remixed secular songs, and many medieval composers such as Guillaume Dufay remixed popular songs of the day in their Mass settings such as the Missa L'homme armé.

Remixing has long been an established practice in rock music. George Harrison was sued for remixing when he allegedly infringed the copyright on the song He's So Fine, which was composed by Ronald Mack and performed by The Chiffons, in his composition My Sweet Lord which was released in 1970 on the album All Things Must Pass.

The court in Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd., 420 F.Supp. 177 (1976), ruled that George Harrison had infringed upon the copyright of He's So Fine . The decision was precedent setting as the court acknowledged that Harrison may have unconsciously remixed the tune. The ruling stated: "His subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious did not remember... That is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished."

There are examples of remixing even holier than George Harrison's My Sweet Lord. The German scholar Karl David Ilgen put forward the view that there are nearly twenty documents that make up the biblical Book of Genesis, and that the documents were assembled by three separate groups of writers.

And of course blogging is the ultimate expression of remix. The previous paragraph was gently remixed from Peter Watson's book Ideas, A History from Fire to Freud, and the two paragraphs before that were slightly more vigorously remixed from a copyright website (nice one). And this post will be remixed at New Music reBlog, we now even have a book that remixes blog posts as hardcopy, and so on .........

On An Overgrown Path has previously been accused by internet evangelist Jeff Harrington (who remixes himself on New Music reBlog) of being on the side of the record companies. That is untrue. I try wherever possible to be on the side of the angels. For me the angels are those adding the most value to music making, and that includes composers, musicians, and some record companies who have successfully remixed themselves, such as Zig- Territoires, Alpha and MaxOpus.

Postclassic Radio says its objective is to promote "weirdly beautiful new music from composers who've left the classical world far behind." In my book that is adding value to music making. And for me, as we say here in England, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an ass for finding it in violation.

Check out Postclassic Radio founder and composer Kyle Gann's own blog for more on this story,and thanks to that other excellent webcaster Classical Junk for the heads-up on this story.

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1 comment:

Pliable said...

An obvious omission from my list of 20th century 'remixes' was the Bach chorale in Berg's Violin Concerto.